The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Polls not totally fair: Buddha

Calcutta, July 14: Last month's civic elections in Calcutta and Salt Lake were partially unfair, though the government tried its best to ensure that police remained neutral and were not exploited by the ruling Left Front, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today, causing embarrassment to the CPM leadership.

'I cannot say that the two elections held on June 19 were totally fair,' he said in the Assembly while replying to the Opposition's charges during a discussion on the police budget.

Bhattacharjee's candid statement came as ammunition for the Opposition, which has been saying that Left cadre rigged the civic elections in which the Congress and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress performed miserably.

'I had specifically instructed the police to play a neutral role on the day of the election, in addition to asking my party colleagues not to be on the streets (helping party candidates in various ways),' Bhattacharjee said.

By evening, it appeared that Bhattacharjee's statement had put the CPM and its allies on the defensive. The chief minister's comments contrasted with their claim that the elections were fair and that their functionaries, contrary to the Opposition charge, did not try to influence voting with the help of the police or with application of force.

On June 19, for the first time in 27 years, police buttoned up Salt Lake, preventing CPM supporters from invading it. Policemen entered a polling booth to drive away outsiders ' mostly CPM supporters ' who had begun to heckle the presiding officer.

In the resultant baton charge, two senior CPM functionaries ' Amitava Nandi, an MP, and Joykrishna Ghosh, an aide of Jyoti Basu ' were injured.

'Several party functionaries did not heed the government's injunction. Those who violated it most certainly did a wrong thing,' the chief minister said.

'But you have to realise that this is for the first time we Leftists secured about 52 per cent vote in the elections to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. We snatched 15 wards from you (Trinamul). You have failed to feel the pulse of the people of Calcutta,' Bhattacharjee told the Trinamul MLAs.

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